Civil Society Presses Ghana’s Parliament on RTI Law After IMF Deal
A civil society coalition on March 24 urged Ghana’s parliament to pass a right to information bill, saying access to information is especially important in light of a new agreement between Ghana and the International Monetary Fund.
The appeal comes in the wake of a new bailout package that appears to generally encourage the government to be more transparent, although the specifics of the agreement are secret under IMF rules and probably don’t encourage passage of an RTI bill.
Action on the bill by parliament anytime soon appears unlikely.
At the beginning of this year, leaders of the select committee handling the RTI bill assured RTI activists that they would pass a bill in this sitting, which will end March 26. The Office of the Attorney General sent amendments concerning clauses in the draft bill that RTI activists had identified as problematic. The Select Committee solicited the RTI Coalition’s comments on the possible amendments.
The Attorney General is supposed to come to Parliament and present the bill for a second reading to make way for debate and discussions on the bill. “That is yet to happen, despite assurances from the former chair of the committee (currently the majority leader) that it will be read some two weeks back,” according to a well-placed activist.
“We don’t know why or when it will happen,” the observer concluded.
Civil Society Urges Action
Joseph Winful, the chairman of the Civil Society Platform on the International Monetary Fund Bailout, issued a statement at a press conference calling on the government “to be open and engaging in the implementation of the eventual programme with the IMF, and not to let down the citizens by failing to grant them the critical tool for assessing the use of public resources, which was the Law on RTI, for them to effectively monitor the implementation of the bailout as was the case in the past.”
The coalition urged Parliament to pass an RTI bill before going for recess this month.
The RTI bill, “would among other things, provide a hierarchy of administrative avenues to ensure citizens get access to information and make the resort to the law courts a last option,” according to the statement.
The bill, “which has over the years been worked on by the Attorney-General’s Department, Parliament’s Select Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and the Coalition on the Right to Information, among others, was currently awaiting its second reading and possible passage before Parliament goes on recess this month,” the statement summarized
“Yet, as at today, the Bill is yet to be tabled for second reading to enable the commencement of discussions and debate on the Bill on the floor of Parliament,” Winful said.
Details in Agreement Unknown
“The jury is still out to see if the final agreement will also deliver the transparency and accountability measures that Ghanaian civil society organizations (CSOs) so urgently have been asking for,” according to a description by Omar Ortez is Oxfam America’s senior policy advisor on active citizenship.
The deal between Ghana and the IMF was struck in February and is still subject to approval by the IMF Executive Board.
Ortez wrote that “CSOs would welcome the opportunity to provide feedback on the current draft agreement before it goes to the IMF board. Although Oxfam and the Civil Society Platform have asked to see the full draft agreement, so far it has not been made public.”
In the absence of the draft agreement, it remains unclear whether passage of an RTI bill is mentioned in the IMF-Ghana agreement. The IMF in the past has pressed government for financial transparency, but not made passage of RTI laws a loan condition, according to an IMF official.
In CSOs’ dialogue with the Government of Ghana and the IMF, they have requested specific measures to be set in place such as: access to information and fiscal responsibility laws, enhanced independent parliamentary oversight on public finances, auditing funds and operations of all government agencies in the oil/gas sector, and substantial improvements to the public accounting system (i.e. complete implementation of the Ghana Integrated Financial Management Information System across the whole of government). Without access to the draft agreement, CSOs cannot assess the extent to which their recommendations have been incorporated beyond rhetoric.
The IMF staff report and the Memorandum of Understanding about the agreement are released by the IMF after Board action. No Board date has been scheduled.